Recently I had a chance to test the Affinity
technique to classify a considerably large number of items. The problem was to look into our customers' data and analyze it to find new ways to provide better services and eventually generate more revenue.
We wanted, initially, to segment this database according to two main factors:
Whether the customer is still using one of our products or not
Whether the customer has a valid M&S contract or not
A quick export from our CRM system gave me an Excel sheet of more than one thousand rows! The list contained customers from the 1990s through today. To make things more difficult, CRM data was in many respects not complete or up to date and, looking around, it was clear that no single person knew about all these customers.
So, using the Affinity technique and 4 sessions of 15 minutes each, a team of 5 members from sales, customer care, and telemarketing managed to categorize the full customer set into 5 groups. How efficient is that?
I have three observations from this exercise, though.
At first, I was telling participants not to talk and to move the customers cards around the table, then debate about any customer belonging to a specific group at the end. I found that this rule shouldn't be so strict. In fact, moderate discussion was desirable; it streamlined the classification process and eliminated the need for an after-session debate, or at least reduced it to the minimum. This, of course, works provided that no one member dominates the session and that all opinions are respected.
My second remark is about the maximum number of cards. I found that the 5 members of the team were able to handle a maximum of about 250 cards in one 15-minute session. In my assessment, a smaller team would have resulted in poorer classification quality, while a bigger team would have required more time to finish the job.
In one of the sessions we actually crossed the 15-minute time limit, and I started to notice a slowdown in the team's performance, so I stopped the session. It's better to keep session quick and the team's energy level high.
Beyond being efficient, the Affinity technique helps obtain consent among participants, it acts as a team-building technique, and it is also fun!